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The Kurds of Iraq navigating uncertain political currents

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The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq has recently made a statement condemning attacks by Kurdish militants within Iran. The Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), as this group is known, is an organization tied to the better known fighters operating for Kurdish independence in Turkey, the PKK.

The KRG has increasingly been careful to distance itself from its former allies the PKK and PJAK. Past cooperation included Iraqi, Turkish, and Iranian Kurds supporting each other’s fights for security, autonomy, or independence in each country. Now that the Kurds of Iraq have a formal, internationally recognized regional government within Iraq, they are treading more carefully in order not to antagonize their large neighbours: Turkey and Iran. Of course, there are strong ties of kin and culture between the Kurds in all three countries.

Furthermore, the KRG doesn’t have the capacity to face resistance on multiple fronts. Its future is still uncertain, and every month is a new chapter in the ongoing history of this fragile regional government. The KRG has its hands full in an increasingly heated political battle with the Iraqi central government, as well as Arab tribal and municipal leaders in the north of the country.

Significant and economically vital portions of northern Iraq are contested by the KRG and the central Iraqi government both. This competition is not simply determining the future of Iraq’s provincial boundaries, but is also influencing the outcome of the very nature of the federal state.

The fulcrum appears to be the distribution of power between a centralized versus decentralized federation. The direction of movement on this question will help determine the degree of independence in the hands of the KRG. The topography on which these parties are currently battling are in the contested territories: most notably at oil rich Kirkuk, and also at the large city of Mosul.

Al Jazeera news clip on tensions in Mosul:

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